Bil'in protest commemorates last week's tear gas death

Hundreds of Israelis went to the West Bank village of Bil’in today for the regular Palestinian weekly demonstration against The Wall and its confiscation of half of Bil’in land — at least some of which should be returned, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled three years ago.

Some photos showed demonstrators actually across the dirt security road and up to the chain-link fence, talking face-to-face with Israeli soldiers, something that has not happened in the recent past.

One demonstrator with a T-shirt wrapped around his head was actually cutting the chain-link fence, and an Israeli soldier was standing directly in front of him, but doing nothing. The IDF has said in the past, and many times in the past week, that this is an act which damages public property, which justifies calling a demonstration a violent riot, and which justifies “crowd control” measures.

But, other photos show Palestinian ambulance crews being affected by clouds of IDF-fired tear gas…

Bili'in Tryptich

(1) On Monday, apparently late (9:30 at night), the IDF invited selected journalists and “right-wing bloggers” (according to +972 magazine) to cast doubt on reports (and evidence) that Jawaher Abu Rahmeh (Abu Rahman) somehow died of teargas inhalation on 1 January that was used by the Army a day earlier, at a regular weekly demonstration in Bil’in.

According to various reports, the a senior IDF official said in the briefing that Jawaher died from some other medical condition (cancer, it was strongly suggested).

Doubts were raised about whether Jawaher even participated in the briefing — perhaps she was just an onlooker.

And, accusations were made that the reports about Jawaher’s death from tear gas were the latest “blood libel” against Israel.

Some of the earlier attempts to dismiss Jawaher’s death were based on claims that her death was an “honor killing”, covered up.

One of the earlier of those attempts was published on 2 January on the Samson Blinded blog, here, and said: “A Palestinian rioter in Bilin, Jawaher Abu Rahma, died after allegedly inhaling tear gas. Which is odd, since she was discharged from the hospital after a few hours. This is not how one dies from tear gas. Recall that Jawaher’s brother Bassam was killed by a tear gas canister at Bilin. Since the number of deaths there was minuscule, such a coincidence is improbable. It seems that Jawaher was killed by her own in order to maximize the PR effect of creating a martyr family”.

However, Yossi Gurvitz wrote for +972 magazine that “The briefing held last evening for all of the main Israeli media (as well as a select group of right-wing bloggers, people you can rely on not to ask difficult questions and who would understand their role in the Hasbara choir) was given, according to a source, by Major General (Aluf) Avi Mizrahi, general commander of Central Command. Mizrahi – first noted by the public when his colossal failure to supply the troops in the 2006 Lebanon war led him to permit limited looting – is a major figure, which may explain why his remarks were given such space by all of the Israeli media, even though he was not named. It should be mentioned again that this is not the official IDF Spokesman position; it refused to answer the question whether it was Mizrahi who gave the briefing, claiming it cannot expose a person providing ‘background information’; but Mizrahi’s briefing was anything a ‘background briefing’, it was entirely for immediate publication … Mizrahi hinted during his briefing that Abu Rahmah was ill with cancer, and she conveniently died during the demonstation, just to screw the IDF. His proof? She received medicines which may also serve cancer patients; this made him jump to the conclusion that she was sick with cancer, and died of it … In short, the IDF asks us to believe that a 36 years old woman died suddenly, just on the day of the demonstration from cancer which showed no earlier symptoms; that a large number of people conspired to fake her death; all of which, by the way, without any results of an autopsy (which was not held)”.  This was published In short, the IDF asks us to believe that a 36 years old woman died suddenly, just on the day of the demonstration from cancer which showed no earlier symptoms; that a large number of people conspired to fake her death; all of which, by the way, without any results of an autopsy (which was not held).  In short, the IDF asks us to believe that a 36 years old woman died suddenly,  just on the day of the demonstration from cancer which showed no earlier symptoms; that a large number of people conspired to fake her death; all of which, by the way, without any results of an autopsy (which was not held).

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, who has himself been sentenced to three months in jail starting on 11 January for participating in a bike ride protest against calculated and calibrated Israeli military-administered sanctions against the Gaza Strip, has sent out an email on behalf of the Popular Struggle Committee saying that “Jawaher Abu Rahmah was killed after Israeli soldiers used excessive amounts of tear-gas to disperse the demonstration in Bil’in from afar last Friday. She passed away Saturday morning from cardiac arrest caused by the collapse of her respiratory system. Despite an enraging smear campaign by the Israeli Army, unsubstantially alleging that Abu Rahmah did not at all die as a result of tear-gas inhalation, all evidence support the demonstrators’ version, including the ambulance and medical reports. Contrary to Israeli claims, Abu Rahmah is not the first to have died as a result of tear-gas inhalation. Already during the years of the First Intifada, Amnesty International had reported forty deaths from CS tear gas inhalation from December 1987 to June 1988 alone in its report ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories: Amnesty International’s concerns in 1988” (published 1989)’. This email links to a report, not by Amnesty International, but rather to a back issue, dated 1992, from The Washington Report which reported here that “The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is suing Federal Laboratories, a division of TransTechnology, Inc., on behalf of eight Palestinian families that have lost members due to inhalation of CS tear gas, a chemical weapon used by the Israelis. The complaint and request for jury trial seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death of the Palestinians. The suit alleges that Israel’s misuse of the CS gas is well documented. The complaint charges that by 1988, Federal Laboratories was aware of Israel’s abuse of the gas by firing directly at unarmed crowds and by using the gas indoors in crowded residential areas, and in and near structures that do not have windows that close. The suit charges that the firm knew the Israelis were using the gas without proper warning and where victims had no means to escape, and that the Israelis were failing to provide medical assistance to the victims. Amnesty International has reported [in a report entitled “Israel and the Occupied Territories: Amnesty International’s concerns in 1988″ (published 1989)] some 40 deaths from CS tear gas inhalation alone from December 1987 to June 1988”.

While the IDF said, in the meantime, that it had issued directives changing some of its practices, there are still questions about what happened to cause Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death last Saturday. While, as one “right-wing blogger” noted, if the tear gas used was of a particularly lethal composition, Jawaher would not have been the only casualty. However, any armed force is also supposed to take into consideration other extenuating circumstances — such as possible medical conditions, or drug interactions — that might turn tear gas from an extreme irritant into an outright lethal weapon. And, by almost all accounts (except the IDF’s), Israeli solidiers used tear gas very liberally, to say the least, in Bil’in last week.

[[The Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) — which is part of the Prime Minister’s office — published a Tweet on 5 January saying that Jawaher Abu Rahmeh died of cancer, despite all the editorial space devoted to debating this question and the medical reports and testimonies that have been published. It is interesting, by comparison, to read on 6 January that “leaks” from the Prime Minister’s office, however true, are not at all acceptable, where as the defamatory spin from the IDF is perfectly acceptable. Arutz Sheva (a very nationalist and pro-settler website) reported on 6 January that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahi ordered the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) to investigate senior members of his administration on suspicion that they leaked sensitive information to journalists, a report said Thursday. The investigation is underway, and several officials have already been questioned, some using a polygraph to determine if they were the ones who leaked the information. Among the officials the Shin Bet has questioned, the report on Army Radio said, are National Security advisor Uzi Arad, government secretary Zvi Hauser, and former Netanyahu spokesperson Nir Heffetz”. This Arutz Sheva story is posted here.]]


(2) On Sunday evening, results were announced after a year-long IDF inquiry into the death of Jawaher’s brother, Basem Abu Rahmah, who died after being hit directly in the chest by a high-velocity tear-gas cannister.

Haaretz reported that “The IDF delayed its decision for over a year, until finally releasing a statement on Sunday. ‘We have approached military officials for their comments on the alleged incident. After examining the materials we received, we came to believe there was no basis found to the claim a tear gas grenade was aimed and fired directly at Abu Rahmeh’, the statement read. ‘The inquiry shows that there are two possible explanations for the injury: A. The injured man was standing on an elevated spot, and intersected the firing line of the grenade or B. The ammunition fired hit the upper wires of the fence, which changed its trajectory’.” This report is posted here.


(3) In the aftermath of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, some 30 Israeli women’s organizations expressed shock and outrage, and called on their government to stop “the use of weapons to disperse popular demonstrations in the West Bank”.

A statement issued by the groups said: “We express solidarity with our sisters across the Palestine and Israel and support their inalienable right to non-violent protest”.

Their statement accused the Israeli army of “trying to … disseminate false information regarding the circumstances of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah last Friday in Bil’in”, and they said they “will join the weekly demonstration against the Wall this Friday (the 7th of January) in Bili’in”, expressing solidarity and “a firm position of support for the protesters and family, according to which Abu-Rahmah’s death was caused as a result of tear gas inhalation, in contrast to versions circulated in recent days by the IDF spokesperson”. Among the groups who announced plans to participate in the Bil’in demonstration on Friday are: Coalition of Women for Peace, Progressive Women’s Front, TANDI, Machsom Watch, Aswat, Kayan and New Profile.

A press release stated that “Jawaher Abu-Rahmah, 36, a sister to Bassem Abu-Rahmah, who was killed in April 2009 from a high-velocity tear gas canisr shot directly towards him, was an active and appreciated figure in the village and used to organize conferences and workshops on feminist issutees”.

In addition, Dr. Dalit Baum, member of the Coalition of Women for Peace, who initiated the petition stated: “Abu-Rahmah’s murder is a form of violence against women, and it is plastered in the exact same way as other forms of violence against women are. As in all such cases, we, women’s organizations, will not silence until those responsible will be held accountable”.

Mahasen Rabous, Coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace, said: “nearly thirty women’s organizations have expressed today support for the struggle in Bil’in, and for the Palestinian struggle for liberation from occupation … solidarity between women does not stop at the checkpoint”

Another Palestinian Death from IDF Tear Gas Used in Bil'in

Another tragedy: Jawaher Abu Rahmeh (Abu Rahmah) of Bil’in, in the occupied West Bank, died on this first day of the year in Ramallah Hospital from the effects of massive quantities of IDF-fired tear gas used to disperse demonstrators at the regular weekly Friday demonstration against the route of The Wall through their village lands.

Doctors at Ramallah Hospital struggled all night to save her life, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee [PSCC] reported by email and on their website.

UPDATE: A photo of Jawaher’s funeral procession on Saturday afternoon is posted on the Twitpic website here:

Jawaher Abu Rahmah's funeral procession in Bil'in on Twitpic

Apparently, Jawaher was mortally wounded from toxic poisoning due to one of the active chemical ingredients used in the tear gas. According to PSCC member Joseph Dana (Ibn Erza), here, Jawaher was unconscious upon arrival at the Ramallah Hospital, and did not respond to treatment.

The tear gas was fired after Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left the village, which he visited in a brief symbolic show of support. [Israeli Security coordinates and reportedly also accompanies Fayyad on his high-profile and well-publicized trips around the occupied West Bank.]

If only Fayyad had stayed longer, and actively participated in the Bil’in demonstration … maybe Jawaher would still be alive this afternoon.

The demonstrators moved out of the village, towards The Wall [which is in the form of a fence in that rural area], where they were met by volleys of tear gas.

The Israeli Supreme Court over three years ago ordered a change — which hasn’t yet happened — in the route of the Wall in Bil’in, where it cuts off and makes inaccessible large swathes of the village agricultural land, apparently in order to increase a “security” no-go zone around an adjacent Israeli settlement [is it Modi’in Illi? or Matityahu Mizrah, as Yossi Gurvitz reported here]. Whichever it is, this settlement is itself over the Green Line, and sitting squarely in the West Bank.

UPDATE: Here is information contained in an email just received from the Stop The Wall campaign — it does not supply a full answer, but it is still information: “At the beginning of the 1980s, the Matityahu settlement was built on a portion of Bil’in land and, at the beginning of the 1990s, another portion of land was confiscated for the Kiryat Sefer settlement. At the start of the millennium, yet another new settlement (Matityahu East) was built on Bil’in’s land. Modi’in Illit is now the most populated Israeli settlement in the West Bank outside of East Jerusalem, with a current population of almost 40,000. According to Israeli government plans, the target population for Modi’in Illit by the year 2020 is almost 150,000 residents”. The same email also notes that “In April 2004, Israel began construction of its illegal Apartheid Wall on the western side of the village. The existing route of the Wall isolates 1,980 dunums, or 49 per cent, of Bil’in’s land from the rest of the village by the Wall”.

Here, via a link on Joseph Dana’s website, is a video of yesterday’s demonstration in Bil’in [note the many yellow Fatah flags, the Israeli musicians, the Palestinian in a wheelchair with gas mask on, and the demonstrators carrying neatly rolled pieces of the chainlink fence]:

A report on the Israeli YNet website here says that “The IDF said that soldiers used tear gas to disperse Friday’s protest in a routine manner. The army added that an initial examination raises doubts regarding Abu Rahma’s [Abu Rahmah’s] cause of death as she initially sustained light wounds, was released from hospital and later died of her wounds in her home”.

The IDF yesterday accused all 250 “rioters” it said were in Bil’in of throwing stones. This makes it a “violent” demonstration, according to the Army’s usual discourse.

Activists present said yesterday that the accusation of stone-throwing was a “lie”.  They maintain that their strategy is to pursue only non-violent resistance.

During the demonstration on Friday, however, Joseph Dana reported by Twitter that he believed Israeli provocateurs had infiltrated the protest to instigate problems… Here is his Tweet from Bil’in (which I retweeted at the time): “There are special forces inside the protest in bil’in. They are preparing an attack on the nonviolent demo from inside” 1:44 PM Dec 31st via Twitter for BlackBerry® Retweeted by you and 19 others

UPDATE: Joseph Dana has just reported on his website that “Small organized groups of protesters then spread across the Wall to try and implement the popular committee’s announcement that he last day of the decade will indeed also be the last day of the Wall on Bil’in’s land. An overwhelming number of Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers spread along the path of the Wall, but were not able to stop demonstrators equipped with bolt-cutters from breaching through the Wall in three places. In one place, the protesters actually managed to carry a rather significant chunk of the Wall back to the village”… This is posted here.

UPDATE: A later report on YNet said that “The IDF and the Civil Administration [n.b.-this is also part of the Israeli Army] have opened investigations into the death. IDF sources claimed surprise at the death, because, they said, there had been no exceptional use of tear gas – neither quantity nor type. Muhammad Abu Rahma [Abu Rahman], Jawaher’s uncle, spoke of her activities and the moment she was hurt. ‘She came to all the protests during the last five years’, he said. ‘Yesterday (Friday) they fired an unprecedented quantity of tear gas at us, and Jawaher was trapped in an area where there was a huge cloud of gas. She didn’t manage to get out, lost consciousness, and inhaled large amounts of gas. We managed to locate her only after some minutes, because the gas made it hard to find her’.” This report is posted here.

Jawaher was the sister of Bassam Abu Rahmah, who was killed within minutes of receiving a direct hit to the chest from an IDF-fired high-velocity tear gas cannister at a regular Friday anti-Wall demonstration on 17 April 2009.

Photo of Bassam Abu Rahmah published on the YNet website today:Bassam Abu Rahmah hit by tear gas cannister in Bilin on 17 April 2009 - photo on YNet by Lazar Simeonov

At least two other members of the extended Abu Rahmah family have been shot and injured in demonstrations in recent years. As YNet reported, “Ashraf Abu Rahma [Abu Rahmah], was shot during a protest in Naalian [Nil’in] while being bound. Some six months ago a military court convicted Lieutenant-Colonel Omri Borberg, former commander of the Armored Corps’ 71st Battalion, of attempted threats and the soldier who shot Ashraf with illegal use of weapons. The two were also convicted of conduct unbecoming and their sentence will be given next week”.

And, at least two others members of the Abu Rahmah family have been detained and imprisoned for extended periods. Adeeb Abu Rahmah was released on 12 December. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, whose case has been publicly taken up by the European Union Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton (her statement called him a “human rights defender” whose rights to demonstrate peacefully have been suppressed), is still in jail although he has already served a one-year sentence imposed by a military court. Abdallah, one of the organizers of the weekly demonstrations held in Bil’in, was convicted of incitement (but not on charges of stone-throwing or possession of a weapon). Upon appeal, his sentence has been extended…

Activists present in Bil’in yesterday reported that about 1,000 people were there — more than the usual number. Earlier this year, in an effort to prevent the demonstrations, the IDF issued an order closing the village from 8 am to 8 pm every Friday. Only village residents are supposed to be in the area during those 12-hour periods.

There were many reports yesterday from activists on the spot that unusual quantities of tear gas were being used. Rubber bullets were also reportedly fired by the IDF at the protestors.

The PSCC is now reporting on its website that “Mohammed Khatib, a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee said this morning: ‘We are shocked and furious for Israel’s brutality, which once again cost the life of a peaceful demonstrator … In the dawn of a new decade, it is time for the world to ask Israel for accountability and to bring about an end to the occupation.” And, the PSCC website says that Attorney Michael Sfard, “who represents the village in an appeal against the Wall added: ‘The son was killed by a directly aimed projectile, the daughter choked in gas. Two brave protestors against a regime that kills the innocent and doesn’t investigate its criminals. We will not [be] quiet, we will not give up, we will not spare any effort until those responsible will be punished. And they will.” This is posted here.

Ma’an News Agency reported on Saturday that in the demonstration on Friday Israeli forces also hit “one teenager in the face and sending him to hospital”. No further details were given. This Ma’an report is posted here.

Israeli activists announced they would hold a demonstration protesting Friday’s army violence at 19h30 Saturday night near the Israeli Defense Ministry headquarters, or Kiriya, in Tel Aviv.

UPDATE: Activists and journalists on the scene of the demonstration are Tweeting that about 200 people are participating, and that police have declared the demonstration illegal, put up roadblocks, and are beating and arresting participants and “tossing people into vans” — all in downtown Tel Aviv… The protesters blocked Kaplan Street in front of the Kirya for over an hour. Reports indicate that 8 people were arrested — including Meretz former MK Mossi Raz, who was apparently treated roughly. A video of his arrest posted on the YNet website here shows Raz being accosted by surprise, and then grabbed by the arms and marched down a street before being stuffed into a van. He appears to try to reason with the police arresting him. Lisa Goldman, who was right on the scene, reported overnight on +972 Magazine here that “Raz says to the police, as they push and drag him toward the police van, ‘Did you see me resisting arrest? Did you’?!” Another report said he had been slapped by police forces. By 2 am, Joseph Dana sent out a Tweet announcing that all those arrested had been released.

UPDATE: Dana also reported that other demonstrators went to Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, and demonstrated outside the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, where they “returned” used tear gas cannisters from the Bil’in demonstrations. In an article posted on the website of +972 magazine, Dana wrote that “The tear gas used by the Israeli forces in Bil’in is manufactured by Combined Systems Inc.; a United States company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. This is the first protest where empty tear gas canisters have been returned to an ambassador’s home. Approximately twenty five Israeli protesters gathered in front of the residence of American ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham around 1am local time. The protesters ‘returned’ loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in the West Bank village of Bil’in in protest of the murder of Bil’in’s Jawaher Abu Rahmah. The demonstrators also made noise throughout the Ambassador’s neighborhood informing residents of how American military aid to Israel is being used to kill unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators in the West Bank … The action in front of the American ambassador’s residence completed a day of protest throughout Israel and the West Bank stemming from Abu Rahmah’s death”. This article is posted here.

UPDATE: On Sunday morning, when a Court hearing was held for the demonstrators arrested in Herzliya, it became clear that 11 people had been arrested overnight — “including two women over 60 years old”, Dana remarked — and jailed. Joseph Dana reported that police asked that they be kept in jail at least 7 more days, on charges of “possession of firearms” — i.e., the used tear gas cannisters tossed over the fence at the American Ambassador’s residence — but the Judge ordered an extension for 2 days, for holding an illegal demonstration and resisting arrest. The Court will reconvene on Tuesday.